Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa: Pilar Ramirez Duology, Book 1
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa by Julian Randall is the first book in a duology and follows 12-year-old aspiring filmmaker Pilar "Purp" Ramirez, who's working on a documentary about her mother's cousin's disappearance during the Trujillato in the Dominican Republic. The Trujillato was a time in Dominican history when Dictator Trujillo ordered many kidnappings and murders of people who disagreed with him or voiced dissent. This novel is a reimagining of that history where these people were whisked away to a mystical prison called La Blanca on the island of Zafa. There are many Spanish phrases and words throughout, with few translations. There are both English and Spanish swear words, with Pilar saying "damn" and "badass" on multiple occasions.
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What's the Story?
In PILAR RAMIREZ AND THE ESCAPE FROM ZAFA, 12-year-old Dominican budding filmmaker Pilar "Purp" Ramirez is making a documentary about her mother's cousin Natasha's disappearance during the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Pilar's older sister Lorena has a professor who's researching these disappearances and invites Pilar to come to campus to speak with him. Pilar is excited to finally be making some headway on her documentary, especially since her mother and grandmother are understandably silent about the cousin's disappearance. At the professor's office, Pilar discovers a folder with her cousin's name. A sheet of paper in the folder sucks Pilar in and transports her to the mystical island of Zafa, where coconut-like demons called cucitos attack her. Luckily, she's saved by a ciguapa (a mythological creature of Dominican folklore) named Carmen, who's a skilled resistance fighter with backward feet. Pilar soon finds out that the people who disappeared from the Dominican Republic during the Trujillato are imprisoned in La Blanca, a stark white prison in Zafa, because of a deal Trujillo had with El Cuco, the mythical Dominican bogeyman. Pilar is excited to hear that Natasha is alive and somewhere in La Blanca, but breaking into the prison is not going to be easy. Pilar and Carmen are going to need to track down La Bruja if they hope to accomplish their task. Will they be able to find her and rescue Natasha and the others?
Is It Any Good?
This Dominican history- and folklore-centered adventure has value, but it may not be an easy read for some readers. Filling a need, Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa delves into the Trujillato, a time in history about which there are few books for middle graders. Pilar is thrust into a mystical journey where she encounters creatures from Dominican folklore like the trickster ciguapas. The novel introduces readers to events in Dominican history, in some cases with a new magical spin to them. Pilar is a budding filmmaker, and readers can see the island of Zafa through her eyes as she talks through the shots she might shoot and describes it through unique and funny metaphors. Pilar is not without her flaws, and she's often angry and seems to take offense rather quickly.
The novel has untranslated Spanish phrases that may be unfamiliar to some readers. For those that are familiar, it'll be a fun read and an awesome experience seeing a different language represented in a book. The lack of translation may frustrate some readers and hinder the reading flow as they try to decipher what words mean. Others might decide to look up words they don't understand, much as they would if they encountered an unfamiliar vocabulary word. Pilar's use of Spanish verbal fillers like "pero," "pues," and "entiendes" feels repetitive at some points. Many characters also adopt her use of verbal fillers, which adds to the repetitiveness and diminishes the uniqueness of Pilar's voice.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the silence surrounding the Trujillato in Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa. Pilar's mother and grandmother don't talk about the Trujillato or the cousin's disappearance. Why do you think they choose not to speak about that time? What are the positive and negative effects of remaining silent?
In the author's note, Julian Randall explains that he was inspired to write this book because of the lack of books on this topic for the middle grade audience. Were you familiar with the Trujillato before reading this book? What was the most surprising thing you learned about it?
Pilar is an aspiring filmmaker inspired by the work of fictional director Josefina "Mira" Paredez. Who are some of the people whose works inspire you? What specifically about their work do you find inspiring?
- Author: Julian Randall
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, History, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Character Strengths: Communication, Courage, Curiosity, Teamwork
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, Inc.
- Publication date: March 1, 2022
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 304
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 1, 2022
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